The USS O’Bannon, a destroyer, was one of the most decorated ships in World War II, with 17 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. But amongst all the stories of its daring heroics, there’s also a story of how its crew used potatoes to defeat a Japanese submarine.
Early on the morning of 5 April 1943, around 2 a.m., the O’Bannon’s radar detected something in the water near the Solomon Islands. By 2:30, it was identified as a surfaced Japanese submarine. The sub appeared not to notice the ship, so the O’Bannon was steered into position to ram the sub. But at the last moment, they decided it might be a minelayer (which could cause the O’Bannon to explode along with it if struck), so the ship turned hard to avoid hitting the sub. However, this left the ship floating alongside the sub, too close to fire its guns. Neither the ship’s nor sub’s crew was armed with guns, but the Japanese did have a 3-inch deck gun.
Before the Japanese crew could fire the gun, the crew on deck of the O’Bannon decided to use anything they had to try to stop them. The closest things to hand were storage bins of Maine potatoes, so the crew began throwing the potatoes at the Japanese. The Japanese thought the potatoes were hand grenades and were so busy throwing them back at the O’Bannon or into the ocean that they didn’t have time to fire their deck gun. This gave the O’Bannon the chance to pull far enough away from the sub that they could fire the ship’s guns at it. Despite being struck in the conning tower, the sub still managed to submerge, but it was then sunk by the ship’s depth charge.
When the Association of Potato Growers of Maine heard how their potatoes had been used, they commissioned a plaque to commemorate the event. That plaque, which was hung in the crew’s mess hall, is shown below: